Chris Kostman profile article

Philosopher in Bike Bibs
Occupation: Adventurer

By Camilla Porsman, editor, MultiSPORT Magazine, Sweden, premier issue, April 1999

To read in the original Swedish version, click here.

He has biked across the US and has held seven world cycling records. He has raced on snowshoes and mountain bike in Alaska and completed a triple Ironman triathlon in France. He is also an indoor cycling instructor. Somewhere in his drawer is a "same" hat from Lapland. He is also an archaeologist. Meet Chris Kostman, 31.

He says his philosophy of life is inspired by Star Wars and Magnum, P.I.

"Do or do not. There is no try," Yoda says to Luke Skywalker in a scene in Star Wars. Chris has made it his motto. After finishing RAAM, Race Across AMerica (a 5000 kilometer long bike race from the west coast to the east coast of the US), nothing scares him, he says. Nothing's impossible, nothing's too hard. He was 20 years old, the youngest finisher ever, when he crossed the finish line in ninth place after 10 days of cycling.

"Star Wars has to do with the powers of life as they are fulfilled or broken down and suppressed through the actions of man," the late researcher and myth authority Joseph Campbell once said about George Luca's space epic. Chris Kostman is one of those who have found that power and decided to use it. Like the hero in Magnum, P.I., his life is full of action and adventure.

"Magnum was a real multisport guy!" Chris explains when asked how the TV series has inspired him. "He swam, kayaked, ran...he even raced in Ironman Hawaii in one episode. Magnum was simply a nice guy with a few close, important friends, who wanted to help others...He didn't have a real job, but managed to be very successful, anyway."

Chris might very well have been talking about himself. Multisport athlete and adventurer. A philosopher in bike bibs with a background as colorful as a cyclist's jersey.

Chris lived in Europe for a year twice during his childhood. His family traveled by car from Scandinavia to North Africa and back. Was that how he acquired his taste for adventure? "Well...Yes, it was thanks to that, and the Indiana Jones movies!" he laughs. Later, Chris went to Egypt as an exchange student. Not surprisingly, his choice of education was archaeology. Today, he's got a Master's degree, plus a Ph.D. in progress. Arabian Gulf archaeology is his field, and to find a Bronze Age shipwreck to explore is his dream. He's a technical scuba diver and a cave diver as well, you see.

It's easy to assume that a guy like Chris must have grown up in a family of sports freaks. That's not the case, however. "I didn't do any sports. I just played. I started cycling at age 14. A friend of my dad's had bike toured across America for six weeks and told us all about it over dinner one day. He had his bike in his truck out front and let me ride it down the street and back. It blew my mind! So I saved money and did odd jobs to buy one just like it myself. $369. Bought it in January 1982. The very next day I rode it 90 kilometers to the top of nearby Mt. Baldy and back. The ride took me seven hours total; now, I can do it in 2.5 hours. I've been hooked ever since."

Still, he doesn't consider himself a training freak. "I am very lazy. I lay around a lot, watch too much TV, eat candy, sleep in, and rarely train consistently. I have not lifted weights in ten years! This week I did crunches six days in a row. That's more than in the past few years combined...

So, what is he? The result of an unusually well-mixed cocktail? What's his secret? "It's all about desire, wanting, needing, doing. If I desire something, I can do it or make it happen. And my one and only uncanny trait is my ability to know my potential. I can, with great accuracy, predict how I'll do right from the beginning of a race or an expedition. It's scary! Oh yeah, my one other gift is my heart. My resting heart rate is 38 and my max 212. That gives me a lot to play with."

Chris claims his secret to success is about having the right attitude."Triathlon, snowshoe, adventure racing, swimming, rollerblading and everything else is just an off-shoot from cycling for me. 95% of the time I've spent training has been on a bike. I excel at multisport because of my approach, searching for the similarities and learning what transfers from one sport to another. It's all about breath and posture and water and food and desire.

"Everything I do is inter-related. I see only similarities, whether it's cycling or archaeology, science or soul. Most people compartmentalize their life and draw boundaries between the different things they do and the different roles they play. For me, they're all interconnected. I use snowshoes to race, but also to study ancient travel. Most people don't realize that snowshoes have been around for 6,000 years and are one of the oldest tools that have been found in the archaeological record. Or, I scuba dive for the fun, adventure, and to experience the bizarre physiological effects, but also use it as a tool for excavating an ancient shipwreck or exploring water-filled caves."

Chris has discovered that excellence is the reward that lies beyond the comfort zone. "I enjoy the activity as much as the purpose. It's the fact that there is a purpose that drives me to go beyond the comfortable and the nearby and the usual. It's all about exploring, discovering and learning. It's about self-improvement. It's about the journey itself, not about trophies or finish lines or awards or celebrity."

Chris was one of those sweating it out in Johnny G's garage as what we now know as Spinning was being created. "Candles, incense burning...the place was packed with people, windows and doors shut, and then we'd spin for three, four, five...eight...even eleven hours straight. Everyone was in a trance," he recalls.

Today, Chris has an indoor cycling program of his own, FlyWheel, and he's been a strong influence in spreading indoor cycling across the world. What sets him apart from many others is that he, as one of the originators of the Spinning concept, has managed to refine the original Spinning philosophy into what it was really meant to be. Chris keeps coming back to his conviction that training itself is pretty much pointless, unless there's a deeper meaning to it. "Everything we learn in class must "walk out the door" with us, transfer to other parts of our life."

It was that very same idea that made Chris create Adventure Sunday: eight to eighteen hour long workout adventures including indoor- and/or outdoor cycling, hiking, climbing the Santa Monica stairs, plus strength and flexibility exercises. "Having learned so much, and enjoyed so much, I truly love to create opportunities for others to do the same. That is what drives me to create and lead classes, workshops, training camps, and races. It is all about creating spaces in which people can have extraordinary, life-enhancing experiences."

As for life-enhancing experiences of his own, Chris plans to enter more ultra endurance races. This year, the 1,200 kilometer long Paris-Brest-Paris bike race. Plus a few 24-hour mountain bike races, and whatever else comes along, he says, only to admit he'll focus on road biking this year. And there's this world record...

In February, 2000, he plans to lead a snowshoe and mountain bike expedition along the entire 2,000 kilometer Iditarod trail in Alaska.

"Ultra racing is in my blood. It's who I am. It's what I breathe."

Photo captions:

There's no "right" or "wrong", only consequences. That's a motto Chris keeps coming back to. To him, there's no such thing as a mistake: "Sometimes it's the setbacks that make you see how far you've really come."

The Star Trek syndrome, he calls it. Chris claims cave divers share the same credo as the Star Trek explorers; "To boldly go where no one has gone before."

The motto of the cave diver is, "Take only pictures. Leave only bubbles".

"Spinning's a metaphor for life!" Chris says. So far, he's taught more than 1,000 classes.

Chris arranges the ultra bike race "Furnace Creek 508". The name tells the story: the race route includes Death Valley and the distance is 508 miles, that is, about 817 kilometers. Want to take part? Check out the website,, for more information!

"I don't eat anything that screams!" Chris claims. But fish and milk products won't scream, so he'll eat that sometimes, although his diet is basically vegetarian.

Excellence is the reward that lies beyond the comfort zone. Chris in RAAM, the year he became the youngest finisher ever as he rolled across the finish line in ninth place.

Tread lightly—and with respect! Snowshoes have been around for more than 6,000 years and are one of the oldest tools found in archaeological records. Chris should know, he's an archaeologist himself.